loss & security – Surah al-asr

Loss is mine. I know it like the back of my hand. I find myself in loss. No amount of cheap optimism and self-care positivity (even if temporarily numbing and soothing) helps me resolve the problem of loss, mine and everything else’s. Security and perfection and lasting compassion and abundance are what I seek and need for myself and all beings. I yearn for them. I find myself yearning for them. It is not yet clear whether this is a problem (some kind of self-centered egoism) that I need to fix. Why should I rubbish my yearning in this way? Go ahead if you want to! I am going to try and make sense of it before I come to such a radical and self-denying conclusion! I also can’t just suffer the losses on account of some uncertain and groundless hope for some future heaven or afterlife.

With the Quran, I discovered that it is in my connection to the source of everlasting abundance everlasting, to the Compassionate and Living and Wise one, as I can witness him here and now, that I can find the source of abundance and security that gives meaning to my experience of loss. This world itself cannot be made “heaven” (a place where my heart’s contentment never experiences a decline or lack), try as I may. A heaven on this earth, a heaven passing and dying and going into non-existence, is no heaven at all. Not for me! I do not find myself such a being. On this passing earth and through it’s very transience though, news of the reality of heavenly existence can be heard, witnessed and confirmed. To the extent I hear and surrender to this news, I find my losses not only bearable but full of meaningful messages for me.

Now, with the Quran’s claim that only those who find security in God (as the Quran teaches God – the One to whom belong all beautiful names), I understand that when someone is, to use a metaphor, starving for meaning, they do (and perhaps should) eat leaves and grass in order to make it through a famine of absurdity they suddenly find themselves in. But I also know that this emergency measure is no substitute for real food and satisfying meaning. So if you are dedicated to making a heaven on earth, doing good in the world, being as good a person as you can be etc etc, please go ahead (or rather, please don’t do this to yourself and others). To me, you are engaged in false pursuits, pursuits for which you have not sought any guidance or warrant from the maker of you and this world. You found yourself with a sense of doing good, you claimed it for yourself, claimed that you know what it means, claimed that you know what the exercise of such sense of doing good means, what the “lack” that this goodness tries to address means etc.

Since the goodness I find in myself is not something I gave to myself and since I do not think it can just be there on its own or “naturally”, I turn to the one who put it there to ask him why it is there and what I should do with it? And he says, “use it in my name”. I find myself using it and wanting to use it. I want to do good. My maker makes me wanting to do good of some kind – love others, help others etc etc. To whatever extent I can.

I need to reflect: Why is there need? for life? for love? Why is there the desire to do good in a world where the existence of need is itself disliked and where the meeting of a million needs leaves a million others unmet and people find themselves with endless desires and wanting them to be fulfilled endlessly for not only themselves but for others? I find myself with endless desire for endless and limitless justice and compassion and life. If the meeting of a billion needs ends with death of both the needy and the one who tried to fill that need, as I see that it does, what is the point? It’s all a big loss. The more the desire to do good and the more actual good is done, the more absurd it becomes. Think about decorating a room for a party that I know will end in total destruction of the room before any real party can take place or after one moment of a limited celebration. The more devotedly I decorate the room, the more painful for me it is, the more absurd my efforts, the greater the loss I feel I incur. As a thinking person, precious things like love, care, life going to nothing is a huge loss. Either they should not have been made precious to me or they should not have been so mercilessly taken away!

So if this is my life and my world, don’t tell me to decorate it with goodness and good deeds etc. It makes no sense. Don’t tell me “its ok” or “look at the bright side” or “just focus on how nice this glitter is” or “make the best of this one-time opportunity” or “life is short..don’t worry about this or that” or anything like that. Nothing can be further than mercy and meaning than to do any of this. I don’t find any meaning in accepting, without exploring alternatives from whoever did all this, all this loss. Someone did all this. Who has made me this way and the world this way and then made me suffer this way?

Either it is all a cruel joke or I don’t get the meaning of all this. I found the Quran affirming this sentiment. It says, “It is indeed a cruel joke, a total LOSS… except that you find security in ME”, the One to whom belongs all beautiful names that manifest in the world, including (crucially) the beauty and purpose manifest in my rejection of a “temporary and imperfect existence followed by permanent annihilation.” When and IF, I reject all this by drawing on the love of meaning, permanence and perfection that is His i.e. by connecting with Him, I see the names of compassionate and wise are at work in me and making me feel disappointed with impermanence and imperfection. In enabling my realization of this compassionate One as my Lord, the loss has served a beautiful purpose for me. It has helped me. My deep sense of loss and ‘NO’ is always necessary and I can affirm it because it points to the YES (the compassion) in whose name the NO (to annihilation and absurdity) is made possible.

It is with the Quran’s message about who my God is, how/where I can find him (by negating my ownership of His names and by not setting up sources of goodness other than the One) that I find myself able to affirm that everything that exists, as it is, is absolutely perfect! The imperfection of the world, my loss and brokenness in response and the existence of the names of compassion and perfection (and One who is compassionate and perfect) that this relation reveals, is all perfect! When I perceive existence (my relation with the world and the loss I find myself in as a result) in His name, bismillah, I find a connection with the source of my perception of loss and the source of my disappointment and pain. I find the source of abundance and the One who wills for me eternity and eternal bliss in myself. In my “bismillah” interpretation of my pain and loss (if and when I actually interpret them as such – it is not a claim I can make and move on. Bismillah is a practice) I find his love and compassion and I do not then find myself in real or ultimate loss. My actions become wholesome (Salih) for me. My trying to help a poor or sick person become, in my eyes, the outcome of my connection to the one I recognize, in myself, as the One who wants to help and heal. When I act in his name (as his khalifa and servant now), I am reminded of Him as the compassionate one. I experience him intimately as the caring compassionate One. My goal now is Him and to be in His presence, not to create my own heaven on earth or ‘be a nice person’ etc. I act in His name, from His goodness and I see the outcome as the creation of a compassionate and wise one, whose compassion and wisdom I am drawing on to act compassionately and wisely etc. The point of existence now is Him, not me. I am the means He has made for me to reach Him…in the midst of everyday life, not as some exceptional mystical quest reserved for some spiritual elites!

Now, with bismillah, I stop imagining I am somehow more compassionate than the source of my compassionate actions and the compassion manifest in all things. Whatever He makes in this world, I try to see his compassion in it. If I find lacks, I take them as the means he gives me to call on his names that would answer that lack and manifest them in the world. In this way, I surrender to Him and I am subjected to His command – when he gives me compassion and brings me near a person in need of compassion, I surrender and convey His compassion to His creature and do not withold it. I can withhold but the loss is mine – now I find myself living in a world where no compassion responds to a need for compassion. This is the “hell” of own making. But if I surrender and act with His compassion, I reap the fruits of a visceral realization of my maker being a compassionate One, one who responds with compassion to the need for compassion. Such a reality, a reality where needs are met, exists! I hear news of heaven, news and signs of ultimate fulfillment in ‘a new creation.’ Now I find it somewhat believable! And THIS is the remedy and the healing of my loss!

My losses are no longer losses of meaning. They become signs and messengers that I read and letters from my maker, bearing His Names of the loving, everlasting, everliving, wise One. I can love my losses in His name. I can witness that they reveal His name and bear His name. I expect from this One according to what I now Know of Him and His compassion. I love my poverty and the daily dyings and resurrections in the world in His name of the One who possesses all things, Ever-living and the One who wills for his creatures, permanence and permanent bliss.

Published by Faraz Sheikh

Faraz Sheikh

%d bloggers like this: